Destination: Freedom's David Peter Alan takes advantage of the temporary, freight-disrupted Empire Builder schedules to make some day trips along Rocky's Road.
Still, the temporary schedule furnished this writer with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel to some communities that were scheduled conveniently, as well as an opportunity to view some scenery that is not normally seen by daylight. This writer took that opportunity for ten days last August. With the exception of one segment, the entire journey was planned to take advantage of the temporary schedule. The results were glimpses of scenery that few riders can observe, along with time to visit some towns where a visit could not be scheduled conveniently under the train’s traditional schedule. Many of those communities are not served by any intercity transportation, except the Empire Builder.
I think we've heard this song before.
The journey started on a bus, from Chicago to St. Paul, Minnesota on Monday night, August 5th. Many years ago, there was a train that ran between those cities on an overnight schedule, but only a bus does that today. The reward for suffering through the night on a bus was the opportunity to explore the newly-restored St. Paul Union Depot and ride the new Central Corridor (“Green Line”) light-rail line between the Depot and downtown Minneapolis.
Yes, your only Amtrak alternative is to break your journey on the Builder and spend a night in the Cities. No more North Star (the Amtrak option) or Black Hawk (the Burlington connection to the Western Star and Mainstreeter) or Pioneer Limited (Milwaukee took it off a year before Amtrak.)  West of the Cities, there's only the Builder. "It's possible that the rationalization of service under Amtrak auspices destroyed much of the connectivity possible in the upper Midwest, such as Crookston to Winona or St. Cloud to LaCrosse."  Sic transit peregrinus Destination: Freedom.
The temporary schedule was inconvenient for many travelers, and it seems unlikely that people will miss it. It meant a longer trip time, with actual trip time usually considerably longer, due to significant delays. Even without those delays, the temporary schedule was less convenient for most riders than the regular schedule, on which the train again operates. Still, the temporary schedule allowed for some opportunities that were not available before it went into effect, and are not available any more.

The temporary schedule illustrated a difficulty that is inherent with a schedule that operates only a single daily train over a route. On such a schedule, it is convenient to visit some communities, and extremely inconvenient to visit others. In some places, the only train each day stops in the middle of the night. In other towns, the trains stop so close to each other in time that nobody can schedule a visit to those towns and expect to see what those communities have to offer a visitor.

Over the years, many advocates and ordinary travelers have said that Amtrak’s problem is not that it operates too many long-distance trains (as some elected officials have said), but too few. This view makes sense. If Amtrak’s routes have two daily trains in each direction, rather than only one, more travelers could leave their points of origin, reach their destinations, or both, at convenient times. A tourist could schedule a visit to a community and get on a train leaving town, without being stuck there for 24 hours (or up to three days on the two trains that run only three times a week).

Before Amtrak started in 1971, there were many long-distance routes where the railroads operated two or more daily trains in each direction. Most of the current Amtrak routes had that level of service, and so did many others, which now have no service at all. Throughout its history, Amtrak seldom operated a second daily frequency on any of its long-distance routes. Still, ridership is growing and the present glut of oil on the market will not last forever. In the short run, the battle to keep from losing the present Amtrak long-distance network, skeletal as it is, will continue. In the long run, the nation will need more trains, including a greatly-expanded network of long-distance passenger trains.
Yes. Frequency matters. And the freight railroads might see the value of having additional trackage with some of the capital and maintenance costs covered by Passenger Rail operators.

No comments: